With the aid of their propaganda and utilization of scapegoats, demagogues and even groups essentially pull the wool over the eyes of their followers. Not only that, there is a mass amount of confusion generated. Where the amplification of one group’s message begins the process of polarization, as the opposite end of the spectrum is sparked to react. One side is pitted against the other, not only that, compromises take form as well, just to spite or prevent the advancement of the other side’s agenda. It can get quite dirty, which is where we stand now.
Though, it is all a farce. The current situation in America is one in which the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, is a less than stellar choice for the Democrats, but it is something that people are willing to put up with, rather than to have Trump in office for another four years. Regardless of who wins, it will likely repeat with another candidate down the road.
In his book, which was released 18 months before the September 11th attacks, Johnson (2000), warned that blowback was going to arrive and mentioned the mass operation undertaken by the CIA. Starting in 1979, the agency armed the mujahideen, Afghan freedom fighters, to provoke the Soviet Union into fighting in a proxy war with the United States. Throughout the 80s they had a partnership but as soon as the death and destruction on the Afghan side began to pile up, and the Soviets withdrew, the CIA walked away, thus turning Osama Bin Laden against his American supporters. Many of George W. Bush’s cabinet during 9/11 were key figures during the secret war during the ’80s. Colin Powell, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Donald Rumsfeld, and Paul Wolfowitz among many others were involved in generating the blowback that was the 9/11 attacks.
In his work, Johnson points out that when tragedies such as this happen, the public, lacking context, gets behind actions that lash out at the perpetrators, which has the consequence of laying the groundwork for another blowback in the future.
In the tail end of his trilogy of books on the topic of the American empire and wear it is heading, Johnson (2006),
In Nemesis, I have tried to present historical, political, economic, and philosophical evidence of where our current behavior is likely to lead. Specifically, I believe that to maintain our empire abroad requires resources and commitments that will inevitably undercut our domestic democracy and in the end produce a military dictatorship or its civilian equivalent (p. 278).
The suggestion by Johnson is for America to do as the British did after world war II, sacrifice their empire for democracy.
This of course brings up the bigger issue that is rarely addressed, and that is of the nature of the political system itself. Every president post-world war II has quite the list of illegal and unethical activities that they oversaw, from initiating coup-d’etats to overthrow democratic societies and installing authoritarian dictators to waging illegal wars overseas, they have performed 26 covert regime changes from 1949 to 2017. There is also the brutality brought on to their own population through systemic racism, unjust wars on drugs and terrorism as well as racking up mass incarceration rates through their for-profit prison systems. That does not even mention the money, corporate, and military influence that informs theses politicians’ actions through their political career.
It is chalked up to the price for freedom, or stable democracy, though given all the issues explored up to this point, these types of incidents will continue to happen until actual changes are made. This might be problematic as it might bring on something people do not want to deal with, possibly because of fear or maybe being too comfortable, enjoying their lifestyles advantageous position. They could also have just been lulled into complacency by the system.
Again, Johnson (2006), calls constitutional America a facade, and that it will likely only last until the country bankrupts itself either forcing it to reinvigorate or fall into military power (p.269). Chomsky (2004), American democracy is an illusion and that both parties are funded by similar sources of private power. Though when talking about the right, he does concede that it is much more extreme and dangerous than the left. The decisions are not really in the hands of the citizens. With each new election, the focus becomes less about policy and progress and more about the qualities and image of the candidates. He shows that only a small portion of individuals actually vote based on the candidate’s platforms or agendas. He also mentions that some issues like health care, that a majority of Americans do want addressed, are often ignored. Berlet & Lyons (2018), concur, there is too much focus on scapegoats and reactionary politics. Republicans, Democrats, Liberals, and Conservatives have all been complicit in this process of making the American dream untenable for many.
Behind these democratic crusades is something more sinister, Berlet and Lyons (2018),
Since the 1970s, well-publicized rightist-backed initiatives—the War on Drugs, crackdowns against “illegal aliens,” and campaigns against “terrorism”—have been used to promote massive expansion of the security establishment, as well as serious attacks on civil liberties, especially against people of color. At the same time, the repressive apparatus has also grown through quieter measures such as expanded identification systems, increased ties between police and community organizations, and greater coordination between local, state, federal, and international police bodies (p. 350).
Authoritarian or fascist ideology seeping into the society, entering at a slow pace while also influencing and bringing forth radicalized groups. A cycle of increasing power.
In moments such as the here and now, bitter divisions between groups start to make sacrifices on their own sides in an effort to diminish the others. This has the effect of playing into private power’s hands, implicit compliance to their whims. Nearly a win-win for them, they just have to modify their propaganda to keep the distraction going.
Knowing the history from which America is coming from, one can see that private power infiltrated quite early if you look at the work of the pioneer of the field of public relations, Bernays (1928),
The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country (p. 9).
Echoing the modern approach as mentioned earlier, Bernays gives a suggestion,
The important thing for the statesman of our age is not so much to know how to please the public, but to know how to sway the public (p. 104).
There is one other point that Bernays wanted others to be aware of. Well before the dawn of the digital age, he knew that even then, the people would mass into groups, regardless,
But men do not need to be actually gathered together in a public meeting or in a street riot, to be subject to the influences of mass psychology. Because man is by nature gregarious he feels himself to be member of a herd, even when he is alone in his room with the curtains drawn. His mind retains the patterns which have been stamped on it by the group influences (p. 49).
The key idea is that the focus is brought away from challenging institutional power and displaced towards scapegoats through propaganda, conspiracy, and even violence. Where the people are not to be served, but rather led by an often hidden hand.
Private power, through its vast resources and connections, utilizes this to further infringe on individual rights and distribute wealth and resources to the higher echelons of populations.
Berlet, C., & Lyons, M. N. (2018). Right-wing populism in America: Too close for comfort. Guilford Publications.
Bernays, E. L. (1928). Propaganda. New York, NY: Horace Liveright.
Chomsky, N. (2004, October 29). The Disconnect in US Democracy. Retrieved October 2, 2020, from https://chomsky.info/20041029/
Johnson, C. (2000). Blowback: The costs and consequences of American empire. Macmillan
Johnson, C. (2006). Nemesis: The last days of the American republic. Macmillan